Data. The Ultimate Power? And the Ultimate Responsibility.

The following article was written by Cat Matson, Brisbane’s Chief Digital Officer + General Manager Innovation at
Brisbane Marketing.

As a key member of the Something Digital Content Curation Committee, Cat is known for discerning trend from fad in the digital space and determining how businesses can leverage new technologies to reach their full potential.

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Back in the old days, business and customer data was something that marketers and finance people liked to play with. With varying degrees of frequency, they would download reports, look at what the pipeline was doing and try to spot trends which would in turn help grow the business. It was a simpler era (and the data stayed in the realm of those who cared about it).

But now (if we believe the hype) it seems data has become the single greatest power and commodity a business holds. A business with organised data and intelligence has a competitive advantage. A significant one. The data allows them to understand where their business stands at any point in time and with a bit of sophistication, data can even help to predict what will happen in the future.

Whether you are a startup, small business or large and established enterprise … data increasingly drives our digital world.

But with this power, comes great responsibility. Or at least, it should …

Over the past few years we have seen first hand the destructive power of data. Intentional data hacking, unintentional privacy breaches, dirty and incomplete data can all have serious consequences. Whilst some consequences may be harmless, a mere blip in our day to day lives, on a grander scale, they can be, and have been, as serious as influencing the results of an election (without most people being aware of just how that happened. Or is still happening).

Which is why we all need to play our part in ensuring that the data we impact or manage is of the highest calibre. That we maintain a high sense of ethics and integrity about the collection, use and distribution of data. That we give thought not just to the desired consequences, or try to minimise the negative ones, but also consider, deeply, the potential unintended consequences.

Any businesses collecting and using data is obligated to accept that being the custodian of an individuals data is a privilege, not a right. Consumers expect their data is treated with the utmost respect, the highest degree of security — and that moral and ethical practices are implemented with regards to when and how their data is used.

One person who understands the importance of high calibre data is Caroline Sinders of Convocation Design, who will be flying in from the US to speak at the upcoming Something Digital event in Brisbane this November.

As a digital anthropologist and machine learning researcher, Caroline knows all too well that nothing is possible without the data the machines are being fed.

Building on the age old adage of ‘garbage in garbage out’ Caroline challenges us to consider

“Who made the data set you’re feeding to your product that is using machine learning, how long did you train that data set, is the data set diverse enough?”

For me, this is one of the most significant and underestimated issues of our time …

What are the unintended consequences of training algorithms with incomplete or biased (unintentional or otherwise) data?

This is illustrated when you “Google ‘professional hair’ and ‘unprofessional hair’. What’s shown is that mostly caucasian hair is catalogued as professional, and black hair is almost entirely depicted under ‘“unprofessional hair.” Who made the data sets of these images? Who trained and retrained this data, and then who tested it before it went to market?”

Another data expert taking the stage this November is Kshira Saagar, Head of Analytics and Data Science, at The Iconic.

Kshira also believes that the whole organisation needs to be invested in data. He argues that when setting up your data team, you should think of it as

“a horizontal, and not like a vertical tied to individual departments. Think of Data and Analytics as you would think of your Finance or Human Resources team — horizontal for the whole company.”

So if data is so crucial to business success and everyone needs to be involved with the data, what can you do about it?

You start by acknowledging your role with the data you touch. Inform yourself. Take the time to understand the impact and consequences of your actions. Challenge yourself to look for ways things can be done better … by yourself and the people around you.

After all, if we are going to be bestowed with the power that data gives us … we all need to take responsibility too

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